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Current State of DRM Standards

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DRM Standards
And Standards-Related Groups


There are many organizations with an interest in DRM standards, many of which are not standards bodies in the usual sense, and many of which are primarily interested in other aspects of digital media which impinge on DRM.

At one end of the spectrum are organizations which define proprietary licensed DRM technologies such as the Content Scrambling System neccessary to build a DVD player. Compliance with such licenses often prohibits certain features, such as raw digital outputs.. Often joining such an organization is by invitation only and/or very expensive. Somewhere in the middle are organizations like Contentguard which are specifically concerned with DRM and/or standards, but promote them in a more freely-available manner. They are less likely to involve specific hardware and more likely to be produced by open processes in organizations that anyone can join, with specifications accessible to all. The XRML standard and W3C organization are typical of this class. Finally there are diverse industry consortia seeking to advance their members' interests by promoting (or opposing) the adoption of specific technologies including to DRM. Your scribe finds it strange that even these latter organizations often publish their main documents in secret - accessible only to corporate members which often pay substantial annual fees. This is hardly a way to get critical mass or objective criticism.

For all such groups, patents which might prevent the free implementation of standards are a major issue. So much so, that the early proponents of a standard may choose one hosting organization over another primarily on that basis. For example, the W3C's IP Policy specifically tries to exclude patented technology from standards, while other groups are more likely to tolerate patented technologies as long as they are easily licensed e.g. on a Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory basis.

Not surprisingly, the closed, license-driven standards and standards bodies are about security and copy protection, and the open standards and standards bodies are about other things. This will probably continue to be true for some time because, as the Cryptography in DRM page makes clear, DRM security does rely-to some extent - on obscurity.

Gordon Lyon of NIST has compiled a larger lists of related bodies, as of Fall 2002, in a PDF document here.


Bodies Which License and/or Promote Technologies

The 4C Entity

A consortium of 4 computer technology companies (IBM, Intel, Matsushita, and Toshiba) which fosters the production of, and subsequently licenses, intellectual property associated with content control. The 4C entity emphasizes secure storage, while the 5C Entity emphasizes secure transmission.

The 5C Entity

A consortium of 5 computer technology companies (IBM, Intel, Matsushita, and Toshiba, who are the 4C Entity, plus Hitachi) which fosters the production of, and subsequently licenses, intellectual property associated with content control. The 5C entity emphasizes secure transmission e.g. over domestic IEEE 1394 links, while the 4C Entity emphasizes secure storage.

Advanced Acccess Content System Licensing Authority (AACSLA)

Rather obivously, the licensing authority for AACS.

Copy Protection Technical Working Group (CPTWG)

An industry consortium, supported by the MPAA, which proposes copy protection technology. They created the current Broadcast Flag proposal and are also investigating means to close the "analog hole".

Digital Content Protection LLC

An organization created to license High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection, a scheme for protecting video on DVI links. ,/a>

Digital Living Network Alliance

Formerly knwon as the The Digital Home Working Group; there's not much to go on other than their words: "Members of the Digital Home Working Group (DHWG) share a vision of a wired and wireless interoperable network of Personal Computers (PC), Consumer Electronics (CE) and mobile devices in the home." Unfortunately, like many other such groups, they don't share their vision freely: if you want to find out the meat of their proposals, you have to work for a company that has ponied-up a $5K membership fee. They get points for their wide membership, notably including Microsoft.

The Digital Video Broadcasting Project (DVB)

The DVB is an industry consortium concerned with several aspects of digital television technology, including Conditional Access.

The DVD Copy Control Association

This is the exclusive and expensive club you have to belong to if you want to build DVD players that play by the rules- which isn't really a choice if you make consumer electronics. In other words, they're the key-holders for CSS.

MPEG Licensing Authority (MPEG LA)

A one-stop shop for Intellectual Property licensing related to video and DRM. Implementors of modern media systems involving DRM are at risk of infringing dozens of patents. The effort and risk of researching and licensing DRM-related technologies piecemeal is huge, so organizations like to MPEG LA offer access to appropraite "patent pools" for specific technologies. For example in early 2005 they offered a consolidated license applicable to OMA DRM.

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Smartright

A consortium of mostly European companies, who support a smart-card based "copy protection system for digital home networks", which seems to be gaining momentum. The full scope of the work is not yet clear, but at the very least it covers in-home video, effectively taking conditional access beyond the satellite TV set-top, to all of a consumer's video-capable devices. In this way digital content is never transmitted "in the clear" even within a consumer's home.
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TV-Anytime Forum

In ther own words: "an association of organizations which seeks to develop specifications to enable audio-visual and other services based on mass-market high volume digital storage in consumer platforms - simply referred to as local storage." In plain English, an embryonic standards body trying to define how content stored in your own home can be made interoperable and, yes, copy protected. They have been around since 1999 and depending on how you look at it, either they are irrelevant or their time has finally arrived with the maturity of the Personal Video Recorder. The membership list is revealing. Most of them are European media and TV-technology companies who want to keep a piece of the action in the era of the PVR. The odd man out is Microsoft, which is presumably there to support their clever strategy of getting the Windows Media Player 9 codec out of the PC box and into mass-market consumer electronics.


Traditional Internet-Style Standards Bodies

Internet Engineering Task Force

The grandfathers of the Internet and the primary managers of core Internet technology such as routing, switching etc. From the IETF point of view, DRM is an "application" which is outside their scope. They did have a working group on Internet DRM, but it was closed in early 2003. Their position on IP is, in effect, not to have a position on IP, which means that both RAND and royalty-free technologies may be included in their standards.

MPEG

The Moving Picture Experts Group, a working group of ISO/IEC in charge of the development of standards for coded representation of digital audio and video. The organization is actually somewhat of a hybrid - democratic and non-proprietary, but with a controlled membership and licensed technologies. Basically, when it comes to digital codecs, especially for video, there is Microsoft, there is Real Networks, and there is MPEG. MPEG is non-commercial, has quite a few members from academia, and is based in Europe. As you might expect, this results in high-quality technology but also some slowness to market and, some would argue, overkill specifications that no-one would ever fully implement. However, some of their standards such as MP3 audio and MPEG-2 video as used on DVDs, are highly successful, and their vendor neutrality is a big plus with content owners who don't want to get locked into proprietary solutions. Recently they have "adopted" the H.264 video codec as "MPEG-4 Part 10", which would have been formidable competition for MPEG had they not incorporated it. They are also partway to addressing DRM issues, with MPEG-4 IPMP, MPEG-21 Part 5 defining an XRML-based Rights Expression Language, and Part 6 defining a Rights Data Dictionary.

OASIS

The "Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards". OASIS started life in the early 1990s as an SGML group and followed the evolution of SGML through XML and applications thereof. Said applicataions used to include XRML, but as of summer 2004 OASIS is no longer in that business, so for better or worse it is largely in the hands of MPEG. OASIS has a RAND IP licensing Policy.

Open Mobile Alliance (OMA)

A consortium of the Wireless industry focused on standards and interworking. Notably, their efforts include a comprehensive DRM framework ("OMA DRM") based on, among other things, ODRL. OMA DRM is by far the most comprehensive multi-vendor DRM community; the scope the effort can be seen at this OMA DRM page from Nokia. Early OMA implementations, in the absence of key DRM features, often prevented people sharing content even if they created it themselves, as per this critical article from The Register. As of early 2005, the $1 US per handset cost of licensing the patents required for OMA DRM is creating uncertainty about the future of the standard, especially given that Microsoft's Media Player is making its way onto Nokia phones.

World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)

Technological home of the World Wide Web and of Tim Berners-Lee, regarded as its inventor and leading light. Technically very capable but sometimes beset by Intellectual Property problems and funding issues, they are widely regarded as the (sometimes naive) idealists of the standards world. They have a Royalty-Free Intellectual property policy. Like the IETF, they have dabbled in DRM technology but do not appear to have significant ongoing activities in the area other than ODRL.
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License-Driven Standards

Content Scrambling System (CSS)

A proprietary licensable encryption scheme which is used to encrypt the MPEG-2 payload on DVD video disks. It only became visible enough to be considered a "standard" when it was cracked with the production of deCSS To build compliant DVD systems i.e. ones which descramble CSS legally, you need to join - and get keys from - the DVD Copy Control Association.

Content Protection for Pre-Recorded Media (CPPM)

A licenseable copy protection method from the 4C Entity which appears to be a variant of CPRM for pre-recorded media, descended from CSS. In fact CPPM and CPRM share the same specification page on the 4C entity site. CPPM is used on DVD Audio disks. It's hard to tell much more without being a member of their exclusive club; here is a bit of information from a UK hi-fi Web site.

Content Protection for Recordable Media (CPRM)

A proposal for "renewable cryptographic method for protecting entertainment content when recorded on physical media" from the 4C Entity. CPRM has flavors for several storage media types, notably SD Cards. They also had a controversial proposal for, ATA Disk Drives for PCs, which met wide opposition and appears to be dead in the water.

Digital Transmission Content Protection (DTCP)

A proposed encryption mechanism for use on advanced digital interconnect joining consumer electronics and PCs, sponsored by the 5C entity. The concern is that unencrypted media transmitted over standardized high-speed digital interconnect such as IEEE 1394 is easily intercepted for piracy purposes.

SmartRight

An in-home copy-protection system for digital content proposed by the consortium of the same name. The proposal seems to be gaining momentum, but it apparently overlaps with the DTCP proposal, and it is too early to tell how this will shake out in actual deployed systems.
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Traditional Peer Standards

MPEG IPMP

MPEG acknowledges the significance of DRM, especially interoperability thereof, but doesn't really have its own DRM standards, unless you count their rather generic and requirements-oriented IPMP (Intellectual Property Management and Protection) concept, which traces its roots back to MPEG-4. More recently, the MPEG-21 standard has endorsed XRML as the rights expression language for MPEG.

Open Digital Rights Language (ODRL)

ODRL was invented at IPR Systems, an Australian document-focused DRM company, and submitted to the W3C in fall 2002. Like XRML, ODRL is XML-based and freely usable, but unlike XRML, it doesn't come from an organization with a large DRM patent portfolio. However just because IPR Systems doesn't have - or even approve of - DRM patents, doesn't mean that a DRM system using ODRL is immune to infringing the patents of ContentGuard, Intertrust, or others. There is a race of sorts between XRML and ODRL, where ODRL is apparently losing out to XrML even on its home turf. ODRL is still in the game, notably with a win in the wireless world, where the Open Mobile Alliance has adopted parts of ODRL as a rights-management language for mobile content.

XMCL - eXtensible Media Commerce Language

A proposed XML-based rights-expression standard from Real Networks. Real Networks never really tried hard to establish it as a serious competitor to XRML. It was submitted to the W3C, but seems unlikely to go further.

eXtensible Rights Management Language (XRML)

An XML-based proposed standard Rights Expression Language, created by ContentGuard and endorsed by Microsoft, which is part-owner of ContentGuard. XRML is widely considered the most technically capable rights expression language, although the same factors that give its broad capability also make it a daunting read. Fortunately most implementations probably don't need to use everything in the spec. There has been some confusion regarding the IP status of XRML. XRML itself is freely available - just like, say, ODRL. ContentGuard does not license XRML per se. However, it's entirely possible that a company implementing a new DRM system could infringe on parts of ContentGuard's large patent portfolio, and thus require a license from them. This could, for the sake of example, even be true if said system used ODRL as its rights expression language. Its widespread use does not seem in doubt; it is being widely adopted, notably as the MPEG-21 Rights Expression Langauge.